The Courage to Be Disliked – book review

The focus of the book are the teachings of Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Freud’s who lived and taught together with him in Vienna. But Freud and Adler fell out, and while Freud became the superstar of psychology, Adler has been much less discussed, at least in popular culture. While Freud uses the idea of past trauma to unlock the secrets of the mind, Adler states “No experience is in itself a cause of our success or failure. We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences- the so-called trauma- but instead, we make out of them whatever suits our purposes”.   On the one hand – this is similar to the attitude Viktor Frankl has in his Search for Meaning. On the other hand, this approach is a complete, almost caricature-like denial of Freud’s theories. I wouldn’t go so far as to deny the existence of any trauma. But I would agree that people do occasionally use trauma as an excuse: claiming the trauma determines their future and denying themselves any agency.

The book hearkens explicitly to the Socratic dialogue in its format: a dialogue between a youth and a philosopher. Initially, I found this idea quite annoying, but I quickly got used to it. In this particular case, the youth’s objections were often aligned with mine. The youth’s skepticism allowed the book to become far more balanced than self-help books typically are.

The Courage to Be Disliked, you will not be surprised to hear, talks about courage a lot. It is not simply that we need the courage to be disliked

Do I agree with all its conclusions? No, but they definitely made me rethink certain assumptions I had made. This is one of the very few self-help books that I would happily read again.

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